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How to be a great consultant

What does it take to be a truly great management consultant?

Like any profession, consulting has its “good, the bad and the ugly” practitioners. There are those who deliver exceptional value and can say with pride and purpose “I am a management consultant”. And there are those on the other end of the spectrum who couldn’t do the same and potentially give the consulting profession a bad image in the minds of those they work with.

What are the critical, absolute "must have" skills you need to master if you in the want be a truly great consultant? The team at Expert Toolkit have put their heads together and boiled it do the following 5 skills and attributes that separate the “great from the good” consultant.

1. An exceptional questioner and listener

Being a great consultant necessitates being an exceptional discoverer. Looking, listening, inquiring, learning, understanding and challenging assumptions. Knowing which questions to ask, of whom and when will stand any business leader well, but particularly the consultant. It’s most important for the consultant as their very value comes from the ability to discover, assess, recommend and implement. This cannot happen effectively without being a great asker of questions. However, asking the great question at the right time of the right audience is not where it ends, merely where it begins. From there, it’s knowing the follow-up questions to ask and of utmost importance is what to do with what’s learned.

Regardless of your focus area or stage in your career, seek to become a master at asking questions, doing it confidently and harnessing what’s learned from the answers.

2. An agile problem solver with a diverse toolkit

More so than ever, the range of problems or challenges being faced by businesses are diverse, novel and unprecedented. The great consultant can detect patterns, take large and seemingly intractable problems and break them down into smaller, solvable problems using proven tools, frameworks and clear thinking. In any situation, the great consultant will look for the opportunities to apply different lenses to the problem to uncover insights and potential “ways to solve”. What’s the process angle? What about the people, organization, operating model, performance and political dimensions? What do the financials tell us?

Utilizing a variety of lenses, the great consultant will draw upon a diverse and continually growing toolkit to address the challenge and look for value creation opportunities.

3. A sense for when it's political, logical or emotional

Business problems and opportunities are rarely (if ever) completely logical, rational, “black and white” or one dimensional. There will generally be a mix of the political, logical and emotional all intertwined. The best “logical” recommendation without consideration for the emotional or political dimensions will most likely fail. The exceptional consultant has a strong radar able to sense, assess, prioritize and respond to these aspects - taking them into consideration with suitable weighting.

4. An adaptive leader and people person

Consulting, at its best, never happens in a vacuum. It doesn’t lead to robust outcomes and immense business value in isolated conference rooms or via the heroic efforts of individual practitioners. Consulting at its best is a people business. Getting people to collaborate and work together as a unified team is a critical element that will make (or break) it. This is a must on both sides of the equation.

The first side of the equation is the consulting team. Typically, full of A-type personalities, highly varied backgrounds, personalities and experiences. The exceptional consultant knows how to work effectively in this team or lead this team, moving them through the “forming, storming, norming and performing” cycle as quickly as possible.

The second side of the equation is the client side. Most complex, high potential consulting mandates have a significant people and organizational dimension. Spanning information discovery, problem identification, solution definition through to implementing recommendations and effecting change. Personalities, agendas, experiences, styles, organizational dynamics all come into play. The consulting practitioner knows how to engage, message, communicate and leverage the people resources of the organization they are consulting to.  

5. Likeable

Yes, you read that right - likeable. Great consultants are likeable. Likeability can come from a range of places - fairness, people skills, vision, passion, enthusiasm, selflessness, ethics, sense of humor. The reason likeability is so critical is that your consulting "greatness" can be measured by your ability to make an impact - which takes influencing people. People who work for you, work with you and your customers. Your degree of influence increases directly in proportion to your degree of likeability. You aren't very likeable you say? Don't worry, you can still be a good consultant. Work out your natural strengths and attributes you can leverage to increase your likeability and your impact will sky rocket.

That’s our top 5. There are others, but we consider these to stand-above others in their relative importance in shaping a great consultant. Master these skills and attributes and you will be on your way to being a truly great consultant.

If you are just starting out in consulting, we recommend taking a look at the Expert Toolkit Business Consulting Basics Mega Bundle - it will provide you with a great set of foundational skills to set you off in the right direction.

The Management Consulting Toolkit - Business Analysis, Strategy and Improvement Tools by the World's Leading Consultants

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